The Lady in the Balcony was born from the pandemic and concerts Clapton was forced to cancel at London’s Royal Albert Hall. So he brought three of his key band members – bassist Nathan East, drummer Steve Gadd and keyboardist Chris Stainton – to Cowdray House to run through a set of 17 songs. The result is a sequel of sorts to Clapton’s diamond-certified 1992 Unplugged session, albeit with him playing electric guitar on three of the tunes here.
And it’s arguably even better. While Unplugged was revelatory, it was still mannered as a broadcast show. This session has the easy feel of four friends sitting around playing music together, aware of but able to ignore the cameras and recording gear. The broad smiles and satisfied nods are genuine as they impress each other with instrumental nuances and subtleties, and Tears in Heaven is so lovingly rendered that Clapton is moved to put his right hand to his heart. And a buoyant Believe in Life, the love song from 2001’s Reptile, gives the album its title as Clapton dedicates it to his wife, Melia, who peeks in from an upstairs window.
Also among the abundance of highlights: a one-two tribute to the late Peter Green with Black Magic Woman and a beautiful Man of the World; a vibey new arrangement of the J.J. Cale classic After Midnight; a waltz through River of Tears; and a Layla that stakes a tempo middle ground between the original and the Unplugged version as Clapton references the signature riff during his solo.
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